Thursday, September 27, 2012

Quest for Beauty // Italian Hearts


From the very beginning, Jennifer (our hilarious and inspiring Scottish-born, Italian-raised academic director) has been reminding us that her goal for us this semester is to find and experience beauty all around us. The first time I heard this I took it as a nice thought, but it didn't sink in.

Last night Jennifer reminded us of this goal and of all the ways that we are able to experience beauty. She brought a young Italian woman who had lived in the U.S. to speak to us about her life abroad and her own life experiences. When she spoke of the U.S. and the people there she had such joy and love in her voice! I found myself wanting to appreciate Italian life and culture as much as she appreciated American life and culture! She experienced beauty in the U.S. and I wanted to experience beauty in Italy!

While I was on my way back to the villa today, coming back to the villa after a great afternoon with some family friends from home (Shout out to my mom who sent vitamins and my favorite sandals! Now I have happy feet and a healthy system. Thanks Mom!) I was able to witness this beauty in the people around me.

 Before today I thought that Italians were cold and unfriendly. I hadn't had very many great experiences with the Italian people. I realize that in some respects that's still true, but in other ways they are more charitable than many Americans.Here are the events I witnessed that redeemed Italians and gave me a glimpse of God's love and beauty:

Mr. Umbrella Man: It started raining while I was waiting for the bus. Many people were prepared with umbrellas and others were making due with plastic bags, etc.. There were also a lot of street peddlers taking advantage of the poor weather to market their umbrellas. One man came running over to the street peddlers and bought an umbrella from him. As he was waiting for his bus there was an elderly woman who had a plastic bag covering her head. The man with the brand-new umbrella walked over to the woman and offered her protection from the rain with his umbrella. As they huddled under the one umbrella it was obvious that they didn't know each other before, but still, this man despite any discomfort and awkwardness offered this woman his umbrella. I was struck by this act of kindness. Never had I seen a stranger offer another stranger their umbrella. It really opened my eyes to the kindness that people are capable of. This was an experience of beauty to me.

Punk Rock Teen and Street Peddler: Shortly after Mr. Umbrella-Man, a punk rock teenager arrived at the bus stop, standing under his umbrella (it looked like he was borrowing his grandma's old one. It made me smile). He had piercings in his nose and one on his neck (I was trying to figure out how that worked) and couldn't have been more than 17. A street peddler near by was trying to adjust his poncho so that his backpack wouldn't get wet. With new umbrellas in his hands and one up trying to protect himself, he was struggling. The boy with the piercings saw the man struggling and offered him a hand, adjusting his poncho to fall over his backpack. I know this seems minuscule, but I was struck by the kindness towards this man that most people see as a nuisance.

Woman on the bus: Finally my bus arrived and I was so relieved to sit and get off my soggy feet. At one of the many stops through Florence we picked up a young woman and 3 children, it appeared that she was their nanny. All the seats were taken near them and she was supporting the little girl so that she wouldn't fall on the bumpy ride. A woman in her early 60s saw this young woman and the girl and motioned for the little girl to take her seat. She didn't seem inconvenienced or anything, but looked so happy to see this little girl more comfortable.

I have realized that Italians are kind, but in their own way. When I think "nice", I think warm, friendly, welcoming and inviting (a.k.a. Minnesota-nice). These things aren't terms I would use to describe the Italians I have met. But Italians are kind, charitable and have hearts that serve. I realize that being "nice" isn't everything. Being real and answering the call to serve when you see a need is what really matters.

Through the scenes of life that I experienced today I feel as though I have really experienced beauty and have come to a new appreciation of Italian charity and culture. For the rest of this week and the remaining semester I hope I can open my eyes to the people that show me beauty through their charity.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Strolling through Siena

Trying to decide where to go each weekend is hard when you have so many amazing options! I knew I wanted to stay close to Florence, but I didn't know where to go... Naples, Milan,Venice...Hmmm... The options were endless! Thanks to my awesome roommate, Becca, and the tantalizing description of Rick Steves, myself and 5 other girls decided to go to Siena, the heart of Tuscany! We had planned to go to San Gimignano (try to pronounce that one and sound pretty, its hard to do!) and Siena, both in one weekend, but because of crazy confusing bus schedules we settled on Siena for Saturday and Sunday. Not a bad decision at all!

The bus ride to Siena was uneventful other than being full of other American University students. There is something so comforting about understanding others' conversations, even if you aren't apart of them. Otherwise I just think they are talking about me... Paranoid? Maybe, but its still a reasonable thought.

We got to Siena and strolled through its wonderful, pedestrian friendly streets all day long. The weather was perfect for a tour of town so we took advantage of it. We spend a lot of time at Il Campo, which is basically a huge town square. It was great for people watching. We played a new game called "Guess the Americans." Basically you just try to guess who is an American tourist. Sadly, it's pretty easy. There were also a few weddings that day and the wedding parties were celebrating in the square so we got to join in their joyous celebration. They know how to celebrate!

A lot of the day we employed church hopping between Santa Maria Provenza (where a statue of Mary is kept that has many conversions attributed to it), San Domenico (where the in-corrupt head of St. Catherine of Siena is kept. Pretty crazy stuff!), and the Basilica di San Francesco (more on this later). There were a few other smaller churches but those were the main ones.

We wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were in the heart of wine country, and go wine tasting! Unfortunately, our original plan of visiting a vineyard, didn't pan out, but we were able to taste 6 different flavors of olive oil (truffle was everyone's favorite), and visit a wine bar where we tasted different wines from the local area and Italy in general. They were so good! We are all excited for school trip to go wine tasting. Hopefully we will learn more about the art of wine tasting then!

One of Becca's friends told her to visit the Basilica di San Francesco, and to see the Eucharistic Miracle that is kept there. I was pretty excited to see it, but didn't know how we would be able to see it. Her friend told us we would have to ask the priest if we could see it and then maybe he would let us see it. So Sunday morning we got up early and headed off to the basilica for mass. We arrived at the church an hour early because yours truly messed up the mass times =] but we got extra time for prayer before mass so that's always good, right?

 During mass I was getting nervous thinking about asking the priest to see the Eucharistic Miracle. What if he said no? What if he didn't understand what we were saying?... All this was cycling through my head as I was trying to concentrate on translating the mass into English. Needless to say, I wasn't doing a very good job.

Well, I had no need to worry, because, to my great surprise, at the end of mass Father set up adoration on the altar for the whole congregation to adore the Eucharistic Miracle! It was incredible! I didn't know much about the miracle before, but afterwards I read more about it. It is truly incredible! If you check out the link above you can learn more! The short version is they are 230 consecrated hosts from 282 years ago! Crazy! I love being Catholic! It was a beautiful start to the day and end to the weekend.

Here are some (ok ok, a lot of) pictures from out time in Siena.
House in Siena where I would be Ok living someday. Rooftop garden: Check!

This isn't Siena, just a beautiful sunset in Florence on Friday evening that I wanted to share! Enjoy God's splendor!

The many levels and colors of Siena

We stumbled upon and Classic Car Parade in Il Campo.  

One of the 4 couples that we saw getting married on Saturday! Wedding bells were ringing everywhere!

More classic Cars...

Me and the girls (minus Becca) next to the well that was here when St. Catherine lived here. The newer parts  of St. Catherine's house were built around it.

Courtyard outside of St. Catherine's Sanctuary. 
St. Catherine's room and a statue of her.

Amazing views of Siena everywhere!

Another Duomo!

Kendra and I enjoying Apertivo (happy hour)! Lovin' Siena night life =]

Night out on the town!


Take 2!
Adoration with Eucharistic Miracle! The True Presence!

An adorable mom and daughter enjoying lunch on Il campo this Sunday afternoon.

Night view of San Domenica. The city at night takes on a new character.

Enjoying the views of Siena all lit up.

Our cute hotel located right next to St. Catherine's house. 

The outside of the Basilica di San Francesco, where the Eucharistic Miracle is kept.
I hope you enjoyed that collection of pictures, in no particular order.... There are so many sites to share! I wish you all could be here to see them with me!

Overall, I have such a love for St. Catherine and all she did for the Church. I really want to learn more about her now. Also, I love the colorfulness of Siena and the lively atmosphere. It was a young city that was enjoying life and the traditions that have been passed on for generations and generations.

Another weekend is gone, and only 8 more to go! Crazy how time flies when you are having fun!

God's love and blessings for you and your families!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

La Dolce Vita // Living the sweet life.


"The sweet life," as Italians call it, is quite an adjustment for this American girl. Please bare with my while I state the obvious: Life in Italy is so different from life in the States! Ok, thanks...

This semester has already taught me to appreciate different customs and cultures. I still have so much more appreciating to do.

I am loving learning Italian. Yesterday in class we reviewed everything we had learned in 10 days and it is quite impressive. I can introduce myself, ask where you are from, and order a coffee or beer in a restaurant! Haha ok maybe not that impressive, but still exciting. I have 2 whole months to improve.

Practicing Italian in real life is nerve-racking. Pronouncing the words correctly is where the big struggle is.It is always humbling when you think you are asking for a hamburger and a fry and they give you three hamburgers and no fries. Not fun. But I just need to get over my embarrassment and pride and dive into the language. Whether or not my verb tenses are right, I will improve just by practicing!

Life in Italy happens at a different pace than life at home. At home (or school) when I have free time I always have something I need to be doing. "Be productive!" is my mentality. Here it doesn't seem to fit. When I have free time all I want to do is sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. I don't want to be doing anything. Something in the atmosphere evokes the desire to just "be." Be in the fresh air, be with people, be yourself. I think this is a good lesson for me to learn.

I have decided that I want to spend a lot of my travel time this semester in Italy. You will notice this as you see pictures being posted from my weekend trips. The main reason for this is because I realized in Rome that I have this amazing opportunity to really dive into a culture and a way of life that is unfamiliar to me. If I was to be traveling to different countries every weekend I would not fully be able to appreciate Italian culture.

As my dad so wonderfully put it, "If you travel to all of the cities and countries you are talking about you will be a tourist and will not have the kind of penetrating experience that will stay with you long after you leave." I know this is not true for everyone who travels abroad, but I have felt it on my heart that this is the kind of experience that I will learn the most from. Thanks Dad for putting into words what I was feeling!

I am excited to dive into "la dolce vita" and all that it has to offer. What I really want to do is to spend time with Italians and try speaking with them. Pray I can meet some nice Italians that have patience for choppy Italian =]

As always, God bless and continue loving and living boldly! 

So apparently they collect license plates from the US too... This one made me feel at home.

View from Piazzele Michelangelo. It took my breath away! Partly because the intense walk up the hill, but still it was amazing! 

It's amazing that chalk and black pavement can be used to produce such vibrant colors! Didn't see the finished product, but already the street is looking better!

p.s. La dolce vita could come from the fact that they eat chocolate and sweets here like it's their job. This custom is not so hard to adapt to. =]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cinque Terre: 5 lands of adventures!

Ciao! from Cinque Terra! Adventures from Cinque Terre start here!

Ciao Bella! Haha, no I haven't had anyone (any man) say that to me yet, but I do find it fun to say to my friends. They aren't creeped out by it... I don't think...I'll get back to you on that one.

From Friday to Saturday pretty much our whole class took a trip to Cinque Terre, Italy. It is a string of 5 small cities along the coast of Italy that are all connected by a hiking/walking path. We did the 11 km hike in about 6 hours. It was pretty intense! Reminded me of my hike down to the Grand Canyon with my Dad and sisters earlier this summer.

The hiking paths go along the ocean and the rest is up in the mountains, but whichever path you are on it always opens up to some of the most amazing views!

At the end of the hike we treated ourselves to the most amazing seafood I have had, maybe ever! It was great! The next day I resolved to do nothing other than relax on the beach. And that I did.

All the towns in Cinque Terre are so bright and colorful. They are itty bitty compared to the other cities we have been in. Each on had a church right in the middle, with a bell that rang every hour to remind its residents of it's presence. Oh how I loved this place.

(Side note: You have probably seen pictures on pinterest. It's all over the place!)

Our very first view from the train. It was breath taking! All you could hear from our car was a chorus of oooo's and aaaah's! Truly God's work of art.

The first part of the hike was Via Dell'Amore (The Way of Love). I didn't realize how funny this sign was until now. I hope you get a laugh at the naked baby chilling in the pasta. If that's not love I don't know what is!

All over the trail couples put locks on walls and chain-linked fences to symbolize their love never being brokesn.  Cheesy? Yeah. But cute? I think so!

Look at all those "Locks of Love" =] (Pun intended.)

Becca and I. We had to document the crazy hike we were embarking on.

Don't know what this sign means other than "You are on the right path." It was a life saver, and kept me from walking many unnecessary miles.

Theresa, Jenna and I taking a break with a great view! 

Grape vines everywhere! They didn't taste as good as I had hoped, but I'm sure they will make great wine! 

Angela, Emily and I on the beach. It was a perfect beach day! The beach was also my time experiencing "European style sun bathing." Quite interesting. I felt like men and women were confused. The men were wearing bikini bottoms (aka speedos) and some women weren't wearing tops. Gender role reversal? Interesting.

The dock at Vernazza. I wish I could just jump in one of those boats and take off! Such a picturesque little town. 

Amanda, Kendra and I adventuring through Vernazza. Little did we know what was to come! Later we spent the night finding our way back to the Villa after missing the last bus and getting on the wrong one. Oops! That's what traveling is  all about though, living and learning.

No this cat is not dead, but it just goes to show how many stray cats there are all over Italy! This one is chilling on a restaurant patio.
Having an amazing time in Vernazza! Hopefully I'll be back to Cinque Terre someday. Anyone want to join me?
We also met a few really nice people while we were there. One really sweet couple took a picture for us. She was from Australia and he from Great Britain. They chatted with us for a bit and told us they were moving from Hungary to London. The other was a nice taxi driver named Andrea, that took us 3 lost girls back to the Villa after an intense evening of traveling. He taught us a little Italian and enjoyed our attempt to speak back to him.

It has been quite a cultural experience so far. I am enjoying every part of this adventure. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers! I really need them! You all are in mine! 

God bless!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Florence: A Breath of Fresh Air



At last I have arrived in Florence. Well, actually I arrived on Monday... And I have been loving it ever since. Arriving in Florence from Rome was like a breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong, the Eternal City is unmatched in many respects! Florence is just more to my taste.

The village where we are living and studying is in the hills surrounding Florence. It is a quaint little town, pretty quiet most of the time, with a little church right in the middle. We are surrounded by green, rolling hills which are great for hiking, but they definitely make running more work (as I found out yesterday).

The Villa is so nice too! Here are some pictures and the view from my window...

My window that opens out to the Tuscan hills. Every morning a rooster cock-a-doodle-doo's at 5 a.m.. through this window. Gotta love it. 

Two of my adorable roommates sitting on our little stoop. It is going to be a great semester with them!

The view from my roomies' room. So beautiful. Looks right into the city and onto the Duomo.

Another picture from my window. Wish I could look out onto this in Atchison.

This is my room! Roomie Theresa and I are enjoying our quaint little abode in the Tuscan country hills.
(insert pic of dining hall at later date)

(insert pic of patio soon)

(insert pic of chapel when I get a pic)

Our first jaunt into the city of Florence (population 400,000) was to Santa Maria de Fiore, or as it is most commonly known, the Duomo. We hiked (literally hiked) up 200-plus stairs and hallways no more than 2 feet wide at widest point, to see the city of Florence from above. It was amazing! Here are a few pics from my phone (of course I forgot my camera that day!). Not the best quality but you get the picture.
My view of Florence from the Duomo.

Disclaimer: It was super windy and super bright up there! Hence the crazy hair and squinty eyes. Don't judge.

The front of Santa Maria de Fiore. If you want to know why it's called St. Mary of the Flower please ask! It's an amazing analogy!
We had a pizza/Welcome to Florence party after our trip into Florence. It was complete with live Italian music, good company, tiramisu, and good wine.

Oh! And yes, we have started classes, in case you are wondering. Life isn't all fun and games over here. We have 3 hours of Italian class every morning (Monday-Thursday) and then 2 1/2 hours of Theology class in the afternoon and then a few times this semester we will have 2 whole days of Italian heart and culture. I promise it really is Study abroad, not just holiday abroad =]

God bless!


P.s. Here is an excerpt about pilgrimage from our reading in my Theology of Pope Benedict XVI class. I thought it was applicable considering the sort of pilgrimage I'm currently on, and we are all on here on earth...
"The more we turn our eyes and our hearts to the earthly Jerusalem, 
the more will our yearning be kindled for the heavenly Jerusalem, the true goal of every pilgrimage,
 along with our eager desire that the name of Jesus, the one name which brings salvation, may be acknowledged by all (cf. Acts 4:12)."

P.s.s. Pics of our trip to Cinque Terre to come soon!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reflections on Rome


Today was our last day in Rome. I have been here for 10 days now and it has felt like forever! I am really excited to go to Florence tomorrow and finally meet the place I will call "home" for the next 3 months. But before I go to Florence, here are few of my final reflections from Rome...

At first I was completely overwhelmed by Rome because of its size, amount of history, chaotic atmosphere, and the language difference (Also, its dirty). Now... I'm still overwhelmed by Rome! But in these last few days I have warmed up to it.

Here are how my senses have perceived Rome:

The sounds of Rome include: people shouting (in many different languages), waiters trying to get you to eat at their pizzeria, men trying to peddle you touristy souvenirs, people insisting that their tour of the Vatican is best, vespas whizzing by and taxi drivers honking at idling pedestrians. It is just as chaotic as it sounds, plus some. With all the noise that comes from outside at every hour of the night I'm surprised I sleep as soundly as I do!

When my ears can't handle the noise, I focus on what I'm seeing, which is just as overwhelming. Everything is so beautiful! Beautiful architecture, fountains, masterpieces of art in every church, newly married couples in St. Peter's square, cute Italian children running around, extreme wealth and extreme poverty, colorful gelato shops that tempt the hungry tourist.

Tastes of Rome have been interesting. I have had some of the best gelato! (My favorite is tiramisu and pistachio. I still have a lot of flavors to try though!) Lots of good pasta, fresh tomatoes, tons of cheese of every variety. The pizza has been amazing, and I can't forget the wine!

Besides the sights, sounds, and tastes, the smell has been interesting as well. BC students know what I mean when I say that Atchison has its own familiar stench. Well, I have found Rome does too! I have no need to miss Atchi-stench now! I won't fully describe the smell to you for fear of making you loose your lunch (have you even had lunch yet?), but let's say its a mix of cigarette smoke, dog poo, and the sewer. Compared to Rome, Atchison has it good! Imagine thousands of years of smells all in one city! Nasty!

Apart from the senses, here is my reflection on the spirituality of Rome. The Catholic influence is so visible here. On almost every corner there is a picture or statue of Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord. Our tour guide on Monday told us that a large percent of Rome is Catholic, but of that number, a small percentage actually practices their faith. It seems crazy to me that in a city where the faith has such deep roots, there are so few that practice the faith wholeheartedly.

 It seems like human nature that when we have something good so available in everyday life we seem to take it for granted. We reject it because we think there is something greater, and we miss out on a lot of truth. My time here has reminded me that you can never be "too faithful" or "too Catholic." We can always grow in our faith, whatever religion.

Rome is a beautiful and stimulating city. There is so much to see and it would take a lifetime to see it all. Hopefully one day I will be blessed to visit again. I have enjoyed my 10 days here, but the adventure has to continue! I'm excited to see what Florence has in store.

Stay tuned! Pictures from Rome and Florence to come. (Internet is too slow now)



Friday, September 7, 2012

More of Rome!

Today (Friday) is Day 9 in Rome. I have seen and experienced so much that writing this post seems like a daunting task. But here goes nothing!

A few of the highlights:
1. Seeing all 4 of the major basilicas in Rome. They were all massive, beautiful and awe-inspiring.
2. Having a beautiful confession at St. Mary Major (No, this isn't a prideful comment. My sins weren't great or anything, but the priest was so holy!)
3. Seeing Montecassino and Subiaco, two places that our patron, St. Benedict, spent much time in prayer and in community.
4. Going on the Scavi tour and seeing the bones of St. Peter! Yes! His BONES! It was insane!
5. Ordering 1 hamburger and 1 regular fry from McDonald's in Italian!...I got 3 hamburgers instead. I'll work on my pronunciation more.
6. Praying in numerous beautiful churches!
7. Going to adoration at St. John in Laterine, Major Basilica.
8. Singing Praise and Worship music with a few people in St. Peter's Square! So beautiful at night!
9. Tried Pistachio Gelato for the first time! It was sooo good!
10. Having Gelato period has been a highlight.
11. Seeing the tomb of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica and numerous other holy men and women.
12. Spending time with the men and women from BC who have embarked on this adventure with me!
13. Having an audience with the pope! Our very own Papa Benedict XVI.
14. Not having any homework (don't get too jealous, this will change soon)

A few of the negatives: 
1. They don't eat peanut butter here.
2. I miss fresh fruits and vegetables and my mom's healthy cooking.
3. The internet is really sketch (hence why I haven't posted much)
4. Sometimes people on the subway think we are crazy Americans. (I will neither confirm nor deny this fact)
5. I still don't know a lot of Italian.
6. I'm still living out of a suitcase.

But other than these things, I'm having an amazing time! A little look into the next few days: Tomorrow we have a tour of the Vatican Museum. Sunday we have a free day. Monday we move to Florence! So excited to see more of this beautiful country!

Here are more highlights in picture form.

My camera has been overloaded with beautiful things, and it has failed to do most of them justice. (I'll share some pictures, but with the disclaimer that the real thing is so much more beautiful! You will have to see it for yourself one day if you haven't already!)

Saw the Moses statue. 
Chinotto: Typical Italian soda. Tasted like Licorice.
Going into St. Peter's Basilica

Seeing the Pieta in real life! Amazing.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit falls upon you.
Seeing the Pantheon! It rains inside there. Pretty neat.

Church where St. Catherine of Siena is buried. 

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena. 

Sitting on the Spanish steps. 

Beautiful Roman Sky.... If only you could see the real thing!

Adorable little girl and Grandma! She brought me so much joy! 

Touring the Colosseum in the rain. 

Look at all those umbrellas! 

Thanks to homeschooling I knew what this said! Thanks, Mom! p.s. Do you see the headless man in this picture? Haha old statues sometimes lose their heads!
Love seeing all the priests walking around this city!

Here is a video of our audience with the Pope!

You are in my prayers! Thanks to those who commented on ideas for pictures! I am in the process of getting those up! I have something fun planned! If you have anymore ideas let me know!